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Love's Labour's Litigated: Will Edwards Sue for Alienation of Affection?

You can only do this in seven states, including North Carolina; and no, it's not what you're thinking. We will now discuss a rather musty old law, a "vestige[] of legal codes that also prohibited divorce and criminalized premarital sex," that might just come back into fashion in the state of N.C.: alienation of affection. According to a report today by ABC News, Elizabeth Edwards (as if she hasn't been through enough) is threatening to bring a suit for alienation of affection against her husband's former aide de camp, Andrew Young.

Alienation of affection is such an archaic law that the vast majority of states in this country have passed legislation abolishing it. Since only seven states that still have it on the books, Ms. Edwards is fortunate to live in one of them. Alienation of affection is an action brought against a third party for contributing to the dissolution of a marriage. As one might expect, this can often be used as a convenient form of legal revenge against a cheating spouse's lover. However, the action can also be brought against third (or really fourth) parties who contribute to the downfall of the relationship.

Specifically, as explained by FindLaw's LawBrain, the elements of alienation of affection are:

  1. wrongful conduct by the interfering party with the complainant's spouse,
  2. the loss of affection or consortium from that spouse,
  3. and a nexus between the conduct of the defendant and the impairment or loss of consortium, which include[s] a deprivation of such rights as services, assistance, and sexual relations.

Translated, this means a wrongful interference by an outside party to a marriage directly causing the loss of love and affection.

It may seem that the logical defendant for this kind of action would be Edward's alleged mistress and mother of his acknowledged daughter, Rielle Hunter. However, suits have been brought against additional parties, often counselors, therapists or even (this doesn't seem right) clergy who have counseled the spouse to divorce. Enter Andrew Young.

Although it appears from all reports Mr. Young played a significant part in the affair, renting a home for Hunter and as widely reported, going so far as to claim paternity of Hunter's daughter, it may still be difficult for the soon to be ex-Mrs. Edwards to prove to what extent his actions helped destroyed a marriage clearly already under stress.

No comments here about hell hath no fury. That's just too easy.

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